The global CBS Reality series Murderers and their Mothers recently ran a story on Mark Howe, a young man from Leicester, UK, who stabbed his mother to death in a frenzied attack in 2013.
At the time, the newspapers were quick to mention his obsession with TV serial killer Dexter and his severe cannabis habit, but more in-depth analysis pointed to the fact that he had spent the years leading up to the tragedy living in a “virtual world.” He rarely left his room, and his only friends were people he had never physically met, and with whom he spent hours of every day playing violent online games. The theory went that this had desensitised him to real world violence, and was a major contributing factor to the horrific events that transpired.
Today, all the gaming talk is about virtual reality (VR). It is one of those things that has been long talked about, but finally, it is here and within the budget of the everyday gamer. Commentators predict that VR headsets will be the “must have” gift this Christmas. But some people fear that we are setting ourselves up for more trouble, as the virtual world comes closer to the real one.
Simple, non-violent fun at the casino
The most important thing to bear in mind is that VR is not all about violence, a fact that is demonstrated by the huge popularity enjoyed by online betting sites and casinos. These have captured the imaginations of a new breed of gamers, typically adults who want a fun diversion where they get the added opportunity to potentially win some money. Sites like these are springing up by the day, all across Europe. Visitors from anywhere in the world can play now and take advantage of a variety of joining bonuses, free spins and so on.
This is one of the biggest growth areas in gaming, and is one that lends itself well to VR. In such a competitive sector, the draw of VR blackjack or roulette is particularly attractive – it is easy to picture how impressive the spin of a roulette wheel or a dealer dealing out the cards from the shoe could be, and from a design perspective, these are the sorts of effects that would be easy to create with technology that is still very much in its infancy.
It’s not all guns and violence
The point is that of course, we are right to be concerned about the effect of violent fantasies on youngsters, whether it is through books, movies or games. VR gaming is another potential outlet in which troubled individuals could indulge these fantasies, and could even contribute to their actions in the real world.
But in the same way that nobody is blaming the TV or film industry for tragic events like the Mark Howe case, it would be disingenuous to suggest that VR is likely to have a detrimental impact on society’s grip on reality. Ultimately, it is down to all of us to look out for one another, particularly those closest to us, and to provide support to those who need it before tragedy has a chance to unfold.